Filipinos Put Down Deep Roots in Oxnard : Demographics: The county’s Asian population has grown dramatically, but only those immigrants from the Philippines have established a community.


Ventura County’s Asian population grew faster than any other racial group during the 1980s as thousands of relatives of retired U.S. Navy Seabees arrived from the Philippines and Chinese white-collar workers moved here for jobs in high-tech industries.

New census figures show that nearly 33,000 Asians--including the thousands of longtime Japanese-American residents--live in the county, a 104% increase in a decade.

One of every 20 county residents is now an Asian or of Asian ancestry.


Most Asians are spread throughout the broader community. Only in southeast Oxnard, the center of the county’s large Filipino community, is an Asian neighborhood identifiable.

There is no Chinatown in Thousand Oaks or Simi Valley, though Chinese from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia have moved to both areas in large numbers to work in nearby electronics, biomedical and defense industries, community leaders say.

And Oxnard’s once-thriving Japantown has disappeared except for Mayor Nao Takasugi’s 83-year-old Asahi Market and a nearby Buddhist church because immigrant farm families of the early 1900s long ago became integrated into the larger community.

But since 1960, the Filipino community in Oxnard has grown from a few dozen houses on San Juan Street that old timers called “Little Manila” into a burgeoning community. About half of the estimated 11,000-14,000 Filipinos in the county now live there.

Only 193 Filipinos lived in all of Oxnard 30 years ago. Today, about 6,400 Asians, 3,000 more than in 1980, are congregated within a few blocks of the old community, the census reports. Nearly all are Filipino, community leaders say. Precise ethnic breakdowns among Asians counted in the 1990 census will not be available until next year.

“When I came here in 1960, we had one Filipino organization,” said Tony V. Grey, 53, a retired Navy seaman who was chairman of the Oxnard Planning Commission last year. Now the close-knit community has 22 social clubs, he said.

Audelio Villaruel, a Ventura accountant who is president of the largest of the clubs, said he had intended to live in New York City but stopped in Oxnard in 1969 because a cousin lived here.

“It’s nice when you have a relative around,” he said.

From its business center--a mini-mall at Saviers Road and Yucca Street that includes the Oriental Mini Mart, the Pilipinas Bakery, Little Manila Restaurant and the Oriental Spa--the Filipino community now extends about a mile to the east, west and south.

On its western edge is the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion Center at Port Hueneme, the source of most local Filipino immigration. On the east is Channel Islands High School, where, since 1980, 15 Filipinos have been named valedictorians and salutatorians of their graduating classes.

The community includes the College Estates, Lemon Wood, Pleasant Valley and Seabreeze housing tracts, which are largely quiet, middle-class communities, but which were forced to address youth-gang problems in 1989 after a fatal shooting of a Latino rival by a Filipino.

In recent years, thousands of Filipinos have moved away, buying expensive new houses in subdivisions in north and west Oxnard or relocating to Camarillo and Moorpark.

But many are still neighbors, although in new neighborhoods. Villaruel said that 15 Filipino families live within a block or two of his new house in the Strawberry Fields tract in north Oxnard.

Despite the recent exodus from southeast Oxnard, the story of Filipino immigration is still told best in that community. Even Filipinos who have moved away return for church, to attend club meetings or to work in a second career as civilians at the Navy base.

Most Filipinos came to Oxnard in a rush after 1970. Cooks, clerks and builders stationed at the Seabee base--and their wives, many of whom are nurses--retired here and eventually brought their extended families with them.

The family of Rodrigo Samiley is typical.

Samiley, 47, a retired Seabee steelworker, and his wife, Delia, have sponsored the immigration of a dozen family members since Samiley became an American citizen in 1972.

“Once you’ve got a guy from the U.S. Navy, you’ve got his whole family, plus the family of his wife,” said Samiley last week from the rear of the Oriental Mini Mart, a tiny grocery he opened in 1982.

The Samileys are representative of local Filipinos in other ways.

Rodrigo started a second career as a grocer when his 20 years in the military wound down in the 1980s. Delia is one of about 300 Filipino production workers at an Oxnard medical supply company. “They like Filipinos because they are industrious,” she said.

And the couple’s three sons, ages 12 to 20, are a university student in telecommunications, an Army enlistee and a student at nearby Blackstock Junior High School. Filipinos are proud of their children’s academic performance and leadership. Rodel Samiley, 20, held a student body office, commissioner of spirit at Channel Islands High in 1988.

The Samileys attend Mass at Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church on Pleasant Valley Road, which serves as a religious and cultural anchor for the community.

Rodrigo is also a member of two clubs, including the Pangasinan Assn., one of 12 groups formed by immigrants from different Philippine provinces.

As with the Samileys themselves, the family’s grocery provides a glimpse into the larger Filipino community. It is a bulletin board for community news and a grapevine for gossip.

On the storefront windows are large signs touting companies that wire money to the Philippines and provide “door-to-door cargo service” to Manila and beyond. A flyersells a new computer training service: “Learn computers in our very own language, Tagalog.”

And a brochure promotes an upcoming talent search by Tuklas Productions, which produces TV shows for American and Philippine networks. “Tuklas Goes to Oxnard” tryouts are scheduled for later this month. Tuklas is the Philippines’ version of Star Search.

Inside the market, Rodel Samiley, at home for a week from college, clerked with an easy-going familiarity. He greeted many women customers with “Hi, Unti,” or auntie, a term of respect and endearment for the mothers of his neighborhood friends.

Filipinos may sometimes shop at other stores, Rodel said, but they return to the Samileys’ shop to “chismiss,” or shoot the breeze.

They also are drawn by the market’s Filipino videotape rentals, three Filipino newspapers and the need to convert U.S. dollars into Filipino pesos and wire the money back home.

“She just sent $2,000,” Rodel said of a departing customer. About six people a day wire money to relatives, he said.

The Samileys have also been uncomfortably close to what some Filipinos consider their greatest community disgrace, the highly publicized gang activity of 1989.

Rodel’s friend, Arnel Salagubang, was convicted last year of the fatal shooting of a rival Latino gang member after the man yelled racial taunts outside Channel Islands High in 1989.

“The response was like real shock, like no way this can happen here,” Samiley said. “We used to be so peaceful. Then when I was in junior high the L.A. gangs started coming and trying to make us join.”

If community leaders were stunned by the killing, so were Oxnard police. Officers said that before 1989 they never expected serious gang activity in the middle-class Filipino community.

A rivalry between two Filipino gangs had begun in 1986, with graffiti and fights. Then in mid-1989, members of one of the gangs, the Satanas, were involved in a stabbing at a party. Two months later, another Satanas member fired a pistol into the car of a Latino gang member at the Buenaventura Mall in Ventura.

“The community called the Police Department and said, ‘We’re having problems and we need help,’ ” Oxnard Detective Michael Williamson recalled. And after the Salagubang shooting, the community began to solve its problem, he said.

“It was like the Filipino community just clamped down on their kids. They took away their nice cars. And Filipinos respect their parents. So when they said, ‘Stop hanging around with the gangs, you’re not going out tonight,’ a lot of kids respected that.”

Some youths were sent to live with relatives elsewhere. A few even were sent to the Philippines to separate them from friends in gangs, Williamson said. The gangs crumbled.

But Grey, president of a coalition of Filipino clubs, said some parents learned a lesson. They concluded that they should spend more time with their children. “At our forums, we started to talk about that. How both parents work . . . and are gone evenings,” he said.

Grey said gang problems were an aberration and that Filipino youngsters typically are excellent students with strong family support. Educators agree.

“We find that Filipino and Asian students bring grandmothers and grandfathers to student conferences, if need be,” said Donald B. Cody, a Hueneme Elementary School District program administrator.

Kenneth J. Benefield, principal of Channel Islands High School, said Filipino students in general “have a very positive impact on our campus in terms of academic achievement, student leadership, drill teams, cheerleading . . .. They are very active young people.”

Though making up just 14% of the student body at Channel Islands High, Filipinos are among the school’s top academic performers nearly every year, educators said.

Indeed, the Filipino Community of Ventura County Inc. each year honors dozens of top high school graduates in an elaborate awards ceremony and evening of celebration, club president Villaruel said.

Most of the community’s clubs contribute scholarships. And to emphasize that high school is just the beginning, recent Filipino college graduates are also listed on the program. Villaruel said more than 90% of Filipino students go on to college. “This is a great source of pride--how well our students do in school,” Grey said.

Educational data has not yet been culled from the 1990 census. But in 1980, Filipinos were among the most educated racial or ethnic groups in the country. While 20% of men and 13% of women over age 25 had college degrees nationwide, 32% of Philippine men had degrees and 42% of women.

Many Filipinos, in fact, seem to have two basic goals: to send their children to college and to buy a house, community leaders said.

“The dream of every Filipino is to be settled in the United States and . . . to have a house,” said Father Gerard Cosgayon, a priest at Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church, which has 1,000 Filipino families in its parish.

Villaruel estimated that nine of every 10 Filipino families in Ventura County own houses. “They have two or three jobs so they can have a good comfortable residence,” he said.

Often lost in the bustle, however, is the Philippine language and culture. Community leaders said that their children are taught native languages only at home, and that only about 10% of youngsters are fluent.

But there are individual efforts to preserve the Philippine heritage.

Josie Bautista, 55, a nurse and past president of the Filipino Community organization, teaches folk dancing to children as young as 4.

Bautista’s group, wearing costumes she has made, performs regularly at the Filipino Community’s meetings. Some dances are intricate. For example, tinikling --dancing between two large bamboo poles--requires months of practice.

But for the most part, the culture is taught at home from parent to child.

“I still speak to them in Ilocano,” a dialect from the Philippines, said Mellie Nagal, 50, a nurse in Oxnard. “But sometimes they look at me like, ‘Mom, what are you saying?’ ”